Feds: TX Hispanics May Not Hear Health Reform Message

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Updated, 10:58 a.m.:

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services will provide $9.9 million for community health centers in the state to educate Texans about health care options under the Affordable Care Act.

The money, which will be distributed to 66 clinics, will be used to hire nearly 200 workers, who will help inform Texans about the federal health exchange — which goes live Oct. 1 — and any other insurance options they may have. 

The grants are part of a national project in which each community health center in each state will receive outreach funds, the department announced Wednesday morning in a media conference call. The centers can access the funds immediately, though the workers likely won’t be fully trained until sometime in August, said Mary Wakefield, an administrator of the Health Resources and Services Administration.

In total, the centers indicated they intend to help about 370,000 Texans obtain health insurance before January. The Affordable Care Act requires all citizens to have insurance by then or pay a fine.

Reporter Shefali Luthra in Austin contributed to this report.

Original story:

WASHINGTON – Texans, and in particular the state’s Hispanic population, might remain in the dark on the benefits of the new federal health care law because outreach efforts are largely focusing on the 24 states participating in the Medicaid expansion and state-based insurance exchanges, officials with the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services said on Monday.

Texas is not among those states; Gov. Rick Perry and Republican leaders have argued federal health reform would eventually bankrupt the state. But Dr. Olveen Carrasquillo, a member of the U.S. Health and Human Services Department’s Advisory Committee on Minority Health, said at a Monday meeting that just because a state like Texas isn’t expanding Medicaid or implementing a state-based health insurance exchange doesn’t mean it should be excluded from federal marketing aimed at Hispanics.

“We can’t pretend all is rosy,” he said. “I don’t think this communication plan is working.”

Two-thirds of Hispanics in the U.S. say they do not have enough information about the health reform law to understand how it will affect them, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation’s Health Tracking Poll. Texas has more Hispanic residents than any state but California, and without the Medicaid expansion, 22 percent of them will remain uninsured, according to the Urban Institute’s American Community Survey.

U.S. Rep. Michael Burgess, R-Lewisville, an opponent of the federal Affordable Care Act, said in a statement that the confusion around the health law isn’t limited to Hispanics.

“I’m sure the Hispanic community is just as confused as the rest of us as to the state of health care reform,” he said. “The Obama administration still has not clarified many of the rules that will govern the new health care system, and the ones they have clarified seem to be continually changing.”

Special federal funding known as navigator grants, which require at least one community-based nonprofit to operate as a health reform outreach provider, will become operational in Texas around September or October, according to Kelly Dinicolo, technical adviser at CMS. These nonprofits will provide in-person enrollment assistance to help people buy insurance — in Texas, it will be via a federal health insurance exchange — or direct them to Medicaid, if they qualify. 

Dinicolo and other government officials said they have launched some limited advertising in Texas, but mainly through online marketing because it is easier to target a younger demographic. For those who do not have access to online information, CMS has announced a partnership with libraries to help people navigate the health reform changes.

The newly launched informational website about health care reform, Healthcare.gov, has also launched a Spanish version, CuidadoDeSalud.gov.

But Jessica Stephens, policy analyst for the Kaiser Family Foundation, acknowledged that coverage gaps would remain for poor adults in states that do not expand Medicaid, such as Texas. 

“Coverage expansions offer an important opportunity to significantly reduce disparities in coverage,” she said. 

The Medill News Service is a content partner of The Texas Tribune and is providing reports from Washington, D.C.

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